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Facilitating group discussions
Facilitating group discussions

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6.4 Unwilling to take responsibility

Individuals say they are unwilling or unable to take responsibility for actions.

The challenge

  • As soon as the group identifies action plans, people start making excuses about why they can’t take responsibility.
  • The reliable workhorses volunteer while others evade responsibility.
  • Members start to give tasks to people who aren’t at the meeting.
  • Some group members insist that you take on the action points.

What’s really going on

  • Some individuals may lack the skills necessary to take on tasks.
  • Others may be feeling that they’re already overworked.
  • The group may be lacking cohesion; people don’t feel any sense of responsibility for each other.
  • People may be wary if actions from previous meetings weren’t supported by the organisation or didn’t yield results.
  • Evading responsibility may be a deliberate ploy by people who are harbouring a personal grudge.

Facilitator pitfalls

  • Allowing people to assign tasks to absent colleagues.
  • Loading more work on the same few people who always volunteer.
  • Not surfacing or dealing with resistance to taking responsibility.
  • Allowing the group to foist tasks on you.

Intervention strategies

  • Tell people from the outset that they will need to take responsibility for actions.
  • Help the group create a specific ground rule about taking responsibility for implementing actions (e.g. ‘What commitments are you prepared to make today to ensure that things move forward?’ or ‘How can we ensure that tasks are divided equally and don’t all fall on a few people?’).
  • Engage members in a problem-solving conversation about what’s keeping them from taking on actions.
  • Create coaching relationships so that experienced people are available to provide support to less experienced team members.
  • Seek outside assistance to remove blockages to taking responsibility. Encourage senior managers to act as ‘Change champions’.
  • State clearly that it’s not your role to take responsibility for actions (and make sure you agree this up-front with senior management/key stakeholders/the sponsor).
  • Put a ‘Bring forward’ item on future agendas to ensure that the group reviews actions from previous meetings and recognises progress.